Uncanny: Reserve de Marche, USSSY, Audience Killers, and Simple Is Good

USSSY (Artem Galkin [foreground] and Pavel Eremeev)

A brief, but telling announcement recently appeared on the webpage of Moscow instrumental ensemble USSSY: "We've recorded and are ready to release two CDs. Help us find a record label." That telegraphic missive refers to the fact USSSY have just published a live session, recorded at Substancia, a radio station in the Russian capital. Playing live - and online - is not the easiest way to gather a large audience, and some of the comments online have reflected the fleeting, almost immaterial aspect of these sounds.

The most inquisitive folks asked: "Will you be talking live, too? It'd be interesting to hear you chat. And will you be playing new tracks - or old ones? Will you start playing at 10pm - on the dot?" Assailed by various examples of cluelessness, the band replied in rather dry tones: "10pm is when the show ends..." A potential audience would appear online at ten - only to discover that the music had passed them by. The appeal of a stable record deal - and hard media - increased by the minute.

World, acoustic, noise-rock, quarter tones... (Bandcamp tags)

This was especially so after a tardy admirer then admitted: "Oh... I was unable to catch the whole broadcast. Could you tell me where to get hold of those Afghan artists - the ones whose music you chose?" That unexpected geographic reference takes us immediately to the unique - and sometimes alienating - influences that underlie the band's catalog, self-tagged as Eastern "quarter-tone rock."

The new live material was recorded, it seems, with lo-fi tools and is also swathed in muffled reverb: those same markers of estrangement come forth in the Afghan aspects of USSSY. The band is currently a twosome, Artem Galkin (guitar) and Pavel Eremeev (drums) - although they have long been involved with colleague Aleksei Taroutz in other art- or math-rock adventures such as IAAOTLWogulow Taroutz Vermo and Kruzr Ken. As a separate entity, USSSY itself has been in existence since 2007. 

USSSY: "Live at Substancia" (2012)

Given the predominance of quarter tones in music of the Middle East, our Moscow noise merchants are quick to stress that USSSY "do not create a psychedelic atmosphere around [hackneyed] motifs of the mystical East." Instead they've tended towards direct and well-considered borrowings from Turkish, Persian, and Azerbaijani traditions. The Moscow press suggests a couple of opposing views: "the result is simultaneously enchanting and frightening." Or, on a happier note: "The music of USSSY conjures associations with some Turkish psychedelia of the 60s or '70s."

Intellectualism and escapism appear in equal measure.

Sensual melodiousness - together with the sonic experimentation of classic post-rock

Drawing upon the same decades of psychedelic performance - albeit in the West - are Moscow's Reserve de Marche, who also have new recordings on display. Formed towards the end of 2009, the band's three members have dedicated themselves to a reconsideration of post-rock or post-metal: Aleksandr Alekseev (guitar), Dmitrii Pomogaev (drums), and Andrei Bagdasarov (bass). As we see from that roster, vocals are absent. From the realm of post-metal, they claim to borrow a certain "sensual melodiousness - together with the sonic experimentation of classic post-rock. The band's tracks are often built upon multilayered structures, composed in real time with the help of a guitar sampler."

The new CD, called "The Last Twenty Years," is currently available for download, and has been nicely framed by a series of journalists, observers, and bloggers in several nations. One Japanese source has spoken of the band's - successful - wish to transport "listeners off to a fragile world of fantasy..."

Reserve de Marche (Moscow): "The Last Twenty Years" (2012)

That element of psychedelic enterprise is interestingly viewed in terms of some liminal or transitional state. "There's both structural originality on display and some shifting, genuinely surprising gradations of sound." Generic and structural norms are tentatively nudged beyond comfort. Another, Western, publication has discerned "a sense of warmth and euphoria in equal measure." The pleasure of familiarity - and the joy of nervous potential, too. 

Importantly, Aleksandr Alekseev has described that same aesthetic in terms of an interface between "musical and social experience. Over the two years we recorded the album, a great deal has happened in our music, our lives... and our country, too." The further we move from home, the greater surprise and oddity raise their heads. Reserve de Marche, like USSSY, find plenty in Russian social experience to justify the (re)use of rock's psychedelic leanings. Life is very strange indeed.

In fact, one US webzine has likened Reserve de Marche to the work of Harvey Milk, the Athens, Georgia post-rock outfit named in honor of the murdered Californian politician. Once more, psychedelic rock finds plenty of suitable, if not dangerously bizarre material - simply by looking a little closer at everyday realia. 

A great deal has happened in our music, our lives... and our country, too

A much gentler version of the same scenario - of outside experience as uncanny - appears in the new work from Riga's Audience Killers. The last time we investigated the band's material, almost no supporting context could be found. The group's two official sites had vanished forever - or at least until somebody felt like paying for their upkeep. Likewise, a Facebook account contained only one image. That situation has now improved a tad with the publication of a five-track EP, "Footprints and Hearts."

Reserve de Marche

An interview with the Latvian press has helped to frame these songs - together with hopes for promotional work a little further from Riga. Here we learn that although Audience Killers are all music school graduates, some unavoidably confusing barriers lie ahead of them. Academic skill is frustrated by a few problems. First among them is language. The band admits to opting for English in the name of a wider audience, but their actual travels have only gone as far as Estonia - where a lingua franca is apparently absent. Tongues are quickly tied. One of the musicians hopes that - in time - the creative, fiscal, and linguistic practice of Estonia and Latvia will intertwine, thus broadening the publication and concert markets. "At the moment, Latvia offers very few places for young musicians to perform."

Sounds made from as many colors as possible

The suggestion is made that all Latvian, Estonian, and even Lithuanian bands who sing in English should combine forces. Thus far, though, the best language for designating one's experience - and fixing an audience - appears moot. Odd experiences have no stable names. Slowly turning that anxious engagement of surrounding reality into a realm of more hopeful, upbeat challenges, the Audience Killers speak first of UK rock bands of the 1970s. Inspiration and social confidence come from rock's archives. They then say that if their music were ever expressed in chromatic forms, it would "involve as many colors as possible." 

Social challenges adopt psychedelic hues: uncertainty, little by little, is embraced as multiplicity. Quiet people slowly adopt loud colors.

That worrying convolution - or lack of logic - in the surrounding world brings us to Russia's Far East - Khabarovsk - and the ensemble Simple Is Good. Judging by their moniker, typical experience is not at all straightfoward and tends to complicate more important or pressing matters. The last time we visited this group, these musical friends and close relatives openly declared a commitment "not only to our music - but also to music as an idea." Once more, simple metaphorical "harmonies" were unable to establish themselves outside the front door.

Audience Killers (Riga), documenting daily life

In the struggle to marry unsullied sound and ill-behaved actuality, the members of Simple Is Good - since that first visit - hold dear the words of nineteenth-century essayist Walter Pater: "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." They also quote Stendhal on a related notion, namely that music can offer "the greatest happiness on earth," because it's the soundtrack to what should be. A distance between quixotic ideals and quotidian experience only grows. 

Noise operating 'beyond the boundaries of typical perception'

And now there's a seven-track mini album, whose title translates into English as "De Broglie Waves." That takes us to experimental physics of the 1920s and the theory that ordinary particles might exhibit wave-like characteristics. The scientific rhetoric of a kinetic, "unstable" actuality is borrowed by four Russian romantics. Turning digits into dreams, the new works from Simple Is Good come with a small mission statement. Translated into English, it reads in part: "Our goal is to reveal something deep or profound to our listeners. We mean whatever lies beyond the boundaries of typical perception. Our music should make you ponder such things. We love people who think, seek, and yearn for something! People who try and penetrate the essence of things, striving as they do so for a broader, more harmonious worldview."

And so a collective gaze moves out across an enticing, yet confusing horizon - far from home and habit. Looking to understand the confusing nature of social existence, our musicians from Moscow, Riga, and Khabarovsk try a range of approaches: orientalist metaphors, drugs, the dream of new languages, and theoretical physics.

An uncanny, unpredictable future is perused - both with tea and other tools. 

Simple Is Good: "De Broglie Waves" (2012)

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